Inaugural Straits Times Book Club kicks off with ST writer Wong Kim Hoh

The inaugural Straits Times book club kicks off with Big Hearts, Big Dreams by Wong Kim Hoh (centre), with The Straits Times Executive Editor Sumiko Tan moderating at the Central Public Library on March 28, 2018.
The inaugural Straits Times book club kicks off with Big Hearts, Big Dreams by Wong Kim Hoh (centre), with The Straits Times Executive Editor Sumiko Tan moderating at the Central Public Library on March 28, 2018.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - Eager readers peppered Straits Times senior writer Wong Kim Hoh with questions about his craft at the inaugural ST Book Club at the National Library Board headquarters on Wednesday (March 28).

More than 200 people attended the opening of the re-branded book club, where Mr Wong discussed his latest book Big Hearts, Big Dreams, a compilation of inspiring stories about the 2015 and 2016 ST Singaporean of the Year nominees.

ST executive editor Sumiko Tan facilitated the event.

Audience members wanted to know how Mr Wong, 56, finds the inspirational interviewees for his weekly It Changed My Life column and gets them all - from ex-convicts to people with life-threatening disabilities or who have lost loved ones in terrible ways - to tell their tales.

Mr Wong, who said he has had grown men burst into tears just seven minutes into an interview, said the key was to show real interest in someone's story and to withhold judgment.

"I've interviewed all sorts of people from colourful backgrounds, some of them doing things that are not very legal. I don't judge. I'm really interested in what they have to say."

Asked about the reluctance of Singaporeans to be interviewed, given the fear of washing one's dirty linen in public, he said: "It doesn't always have to be dirty. Your linen could have a lot of textures - so why not let people feel the textures for themselves?"

 

He also opened up about his childhood in Kuala Lumpur, where he grew up in a rough neighbourhood, befriended gangsters and could not read until he was in Primary 2 because his family could not afford to send him to kindergarten.

He spoke of his plans to release a second book of columns from It Changed My Life, following from his first in 2015, as well as to start a fund for select candidates from among his newsmakers in the hope that it "can help them change their lives in different ways".

The ST Book Club, which takes over the newspaper's non-fiction book club The Big Read Meet, runs every last Wednesday of the month, with a new slate of ST journalists moderating sessions on new titles.

Literature teacher Lee Mei Chuen, 55, a regular at the Big Read Meet, said: "It was a wonderful talk, quality stuff. That Mr Wong could talk to any person, from millionaires to people with HIV, impressed me so much.

"I am looking forward to every one of the upcoming talks, and will be here unless I fall ill."

The next book club session on April 25 will focus on Lee's Lieutenants, a re-issued book on founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and the Old Guard.

It will feature its authors, Dr Kevin Tan and Dr Lam Peng Er, in conversation with ST head of training and development Lydia Lim. Readers can register at str.sg/oq5g.